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The Georgia-Russia War




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Georgia-Russia War map courtesy of The Economist

The Georgia-Russia War of 2008


  See also Wars and Conflicts of Georgia

The Georgia-Russia War (2008)--After nearly two months of border clashes between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia, Georgia launched a major military offensive against South Ossetia which prompted Russia to intervene against Georgia.

On the morning of August 7, the Georgian army invaded South Ossetian territory and moved on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. By the end of August 8, the Georgians controlled most of the city. When the war began, South Ossetia was defended by only 2,500 Ossetian militia and fewer than 600 Russian "peacekeeper" troops. Georgia's invasion force numbered nearly 7,500 American and Israeli-trained troops, with scores of tanks and armored personnel carriers. The well-trained Georgians also enjoyed a technological advantage over their foes; night-vision equipment and aerial drones. Georgian artillery and air strikes landed with effective precision due to their drone eyes-in-the-sky. Russian forces facing the Georgians do not have these technologies. Russian forces in South Ossetia, though aware that a conflict was coming, were caught by surprise by the timing of the Georgian assault.

Events turned against the Georgians immediately as the numerically greater Russian Army crossed the border later on August 8, and battled Georgian forces outside Tskhinvali. Russia already had several hundred peacekeeping troops inside the city, who had suffered casualties in Georgian air attacks. Russian aircraft bombed the Georgian cities of Kareli, Gori, Vaziani, near Tbilisi and the military airfield in Marneuli, also near Tbilisi on August 8. This bombing campaign was critical to Russia's rout of the Georgian military. Russia has obviously learned from other recent conflicts, including the Kosovo War, their own Chechen Wars, and the American Wars against Iraq in the 1990s as well as the current Iraq War. In those conflicts, swift and overpowering use of air power against enemy military facilities, air bases, and transportation and logistical targets disrupted the defender's plans and enabled the invading forces a powerful advantage.

Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Russian forces in the region, claimed that Georgian shelling had destroyed most of Tskhinvali.

Russian media reported heavy fighting between Russian and Georgian troops the night of Aug. 8/9, and Georgia reported Russian planes were bombing the Black Sea port of Poti.

On August 9, Russian forces continued to enter South Ossetia, and continued to bomb targets in Georgia. Reports also indicated that the Russian navy was moving toward Georgia's Black Sea coast.

By August 10, Russian air power continued to dominate the skies above Georgia, with bombing of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Also, the war expanded to the naval front, with the Russian navy deploying warships off the Georgian coast. The Kremlin asserted that Russian forces sank a Georgian missile boat that attempted to attack Russian naval forces off the Black Sea coast. The Georgians said that Russian tanks had invaded Georgia proper, having moved south out of Ossetia into Georgian territory.

The Ukraine, where the Russian ships are based, said that it had the right to deny re-docking privileges to the ships upon their return. Ukraine, like Georgia, has sought to move away from Russian influence and seek to join NATO. Also on the 10th, American military transport aircraft began ferrying Georgia's Iraq contingent back home to face the invading Russians.

Russian and Abkhazian troops moved into the Georgian-controlled Kodori Gorge on on August 10, in a major expansion of the war. Russian ground forces also attacked the Georgian city of Gori, a major military and transportation hub.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly told American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in a phone call that the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, "must go." This comment prompted the American Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, in a United Nations Security Council session, to charge that Russia's goal in the war was "regime change."

The United States increased its public criticism of Russia on Sunday, August 10, as the Russians and their Abkhazian proxies opened a second front in their war against the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. As the U.S. Air Force ferried Georgia's Iraq contingent back home, American political and national security officials made some possibly disturbing public comments:

"[Vice-President Dick] Cheney was even more pointed, telling [Georgian President] Saakashvili on Sunday afternoon that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered," according to his press secretary.


Briefing reporters traveling with Bush on Sunday, Deputy National Security Adviser James F. Jeffrey would not rule out the use of American force to assist Georgia but said that was not the current focus of U.S. efforts. "--Washington Post, August 10, 2008

With ongoing American military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States realistically has few options in a military intervention in the Georgia-Russia War, short of an all-out war with Russia. 

On August 11, Russian troops were in the Georgian town of Senaki, site of previous rebellions against the Tbilisi government. Senaki is south of Abkhazia, and the presence of Russians in Senaki's Samegrelo province is significant in that is indicates that Russia will not be satisfied with merely ousting Georgian forces from the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russian air power continued to pound the city of Gori, which is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, at once best known as a powerfully ruthless Soviet leader, and the best known Georgian in history. Some reports indicated the fall of Gori to the Russians, while other reports denied the city's takeover. Gori is only 45 minutes from the capital of Tbilisi and contains a major Georgian military base.

An Analysis of the Georgia-Russia War of 2008

While the war itself is not yet over, several points can be examined in how this conflict unfolded and the early course of the war, as well as some apparent consequences of this Russia-Georgia war:

--It now appears clear that Georgia was duped into attacking South Ossetia and that the Russians had laid a trap to make the Georgians fire the first shots, thereby letting Russia claim to be pushing back an aggressor. According to Stratfor, a private American intelligence company, Russian forces were pre-positioned near the border, therefore more able to respond quickly to attack the Georgians when they moved into South Ossetia on August 8. While the timing of the Georgian attack took the Russians by surprise, their inability to seize the South Ossetian capital and thus their delay in pushing on to the strategically important Roki Tunnel, allowed Russia to pour troops into Ossetia and force back the Georgian military.

--Georgia assumed that because of their cooperation with America in Iraq, and their application to join NATO, America would be more proactive in helping Georgia against Russia. This appears to have been foolish and naive wishful thinking. With major American military assets tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with a possible Iran War looming, the United States is in no position to risk war with Russia.

--Poland, which suffered from Russian invasions, massacres, and depredations multiple times in the 20th century, came to a quick agreement with the United States that will place an American missile defense base in Poland. This long-delayed agreement was reached by the Americans and Poles in an obvious response to what the Poles see as Russian aggression in Georgia.

From the Al Jazeera: Russian tanks roll towards Tbilisi - 14 August 2008

From the Associate Press: A Russian convoy of troops were engaged in an intense firefight, presumably with Georgian soldiers at a bridge in Achabet, South Ossetia Monday. (Aug. 11)

Sources and Links on the Russia-Georgia War of 2008:


Biden says US stands with Georgia-AP, July 22, 2009

Biden Arrives in Georgia with Message of Support--Voice of Americ, July 22, 2009

Georgia Claims on Russia War Called Into Question --New York Times, Nov. 6, 2008

Fears of new war rise around separatist Abkhazia--Associated Press, Nov. 1, 2008

Conflict Exposes Obsolete Hardware --Moscow Times, August 15, 2008

Georgia Says Russian Troops Still Control One-Third of, August 15, 2008

U.S. and Poland Set Missile Deal--New York Times, August 14, 2008

Signs of Ethnic Attacks in Georgia Conflict--New York Times, August 14, 2008

The Failure of Realpolitik-- The Moscow, August 12, 2008

McCain to voters: Russia-Georgia matters --August 11, 2008

Bush to Russia: Reverse 'unacceptable' course in Georgia--CNN, August 11, 2008

Russian Forces Capture Military Base in Georgia --New York Times, August 11, 2008

Russia opens new front, drives deeper into Georgia--Associated Press, August 11, 2008

US, Russian ambassadors spar at UN over Georgia--Associated Press, August 10, 2008

Georgia under all-out attack in breakaway Abkhazia: Separatist rebels and Russian forces launch attack on Georgian stronghold in Black Sea, August 10, 2008

Russia expands Georgia blitz, deploys ships--Associated Press, August 10, 2008

Georgia and Russia Nearing All-Out War--New York Times, August 9, 2008

Candidates’ Reactions to Georgia Conflict Offer Hints at Style on Foreign Affairs --New York Times, August 9, 2008

Russia's 'Full Scale Invasion' of Georgia (Updated, with Video)--The Danger Room, posted August 9, 2008

War erupts in Georgia--The Economist, August 8, 2008

 Did the U.S. Prep Georgia for War with Russia?--The Danger Room, posted August 8, 2008

Please cite this source when appropriate:

Lee, R. "The Georgia-Russia War"

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